A good friend asked me yesterday, “Hey, bro. Why do they like to pick on you in the chats? Easy target?” “All my life, I am used to it” was all I could muster, without answering the question. It’s mostly harmless, I justify to myself. They just like to drag me into any topic that’s worth a laugh. It could have been anyone’s name but it’s usually mine they choose – as if I’m their resident jester. A weak-minded person would readily cite these episodes as cyber-bullying, and spiral into another abyss of self-doubt and self-pity. Weekly visits to their favourite psychiatrist perhaps also the end result, with mind-numbing dosages of Kalma or Xanax for life, a near certainty. Just as well then that my father named me “Forever Strong”. My name gives me the inner confidence and superior resoluteness to deflect these “harmless jibes and gibberish nonsense”. Repeating to myself that that is all they are keeps me sane. No. 1 Son introduced me to Peaky Blinders on Netflix. We watch one episode after dinner every time he comes home bar the odd exception – that is no more than three episodes a week. We have just finished Season 5, each season has six episodes. Let me work it out. It has taken us almost three months to follow the Birmingham gangsters transform themselves from the gloomy and dark side streets smashing skulls and slicing faces with razor-embedded caps to the rank of English aristocracy with budding political powers. Whilst waiting for No. 1 Son to start the latest episode, last night I began to watch the series again – from the beginning – but this time with the intention to figure out why their story captivates my imagination. They are gypsies. They possess a strong sense of freedom in the way they live (and die). There is no need for a spoiler alert here, I shan’t divulge who dies and who lives. Suffice to say those who pick on the Peaky Blinders were blind or blinded. As I ravenously consumed three episodes of Season 1 last night, it dawned on me that I should become a Peaky Blinder too. No one picks on a Peaky Blinder and gets to walk away, that is how I should remind myself during my interactions with people in the virtual world. The good friend who asked me why I’m often picked on suggested that maybe it is because I think too much too often and too loudly. He is telling me thinking aloud isn’t allowed. People get annoyed! Maybe I disturb their peace with my rhetorical questions and flawed philosophies about life. “You make yourself a big target. An easy target.” he told me. That is a recognition that I am a target of cyber bullying. Well, from now on I shall wear a new woollen cap, and on its edges will be stitched a few sharp Gillette razor blades. I will adopt a new gait too, that which is instantly recognisable as only the two Shelby brothers have. Thank you, Arthur Shelby and Tommy Shelby. You guys have shown me a new way to present myself. Elbows apart, arms stiff, back straight, and walk menacingly. I shan’t be picked on again. No, they aren’t to think I’m their nose anymore, just there for their picking.
Why do people pick on people? Why do friends pick on me? They have, ever since primary school days. Once, I was tripped whilst playing “chasey” or “archi-loke”. I was the chaser. The chaser has to hop one-legged to chase the target in a square no bigger than 25 foot x 25 foot. The target leaves the game if he is tapped by the chaser. Someone put his leg out and I fell heavily on the rough bitumen square. I had to leave the game – went to the WC alone to clean my wounds and nurse my bruised pride. None of my friends asked how I was or whether the bleeding had stopped. Maybe that was the making of a Peaky Blinder right there. A tough, solitary world with friends as well as adults too preoccupied with their own distractions or daily struggles to notice your scars, both psychological and physical ones. Growing up in a large family makes you realise that one is not special when there are many others not unlike you. Being left to fend for oneself often enough provides a magnifying glass to one’s mediocrity and offers an early lesson that life will be a teacher of hard knocks. I was no different from the other boys in school. It was the nerds that got picked on, too smart, too outstanding, too different. I was not an extrovert and did not shine let alone outshine the other boys. Form 5 was considered the final year of secondary school as only a fraction of the students progressed to Form 6 (Year 12). Yet, in Lower 6, I was still picked on, even by my closest of friends. I was the company secretary of our school Boy Scouts troop, the second-in-charge in a strictly hierarchical organisation. Ours was a boys’ school from Year 1 but for some unfathomable reason, it became a co-ed school just as our gonads turned hyper-active. The pituitary gland in the brain goes crazy and produces hormones that stimulate sperm production. How do boys behave with so much testosterone in their body? They go crazy about girls, right? What do the teachers do to us boys who were segregated from girls all through our school life? They throw pubescent girls at us just when we have a rich flow of testosterone in our bodies and our balls are getting filled with an unlimited supply of freshly produced sperm. In Lower 6, the school’s Boy Scouts organised a jamboree and invited a few contingents to participate – some came from inter-state too, it got a lot of publicity. On reflection, it was a major event that ran successfully. No hiccups, until the final night. A girl guide fell ill (I think she had her “monthly”) and was inconvenienced by a severe headache and “lower body” cramp. Growing up with a few sisters taught me that she was likely feeling the painful effects of her period. Somehow, she asked me to stay with her in the First-aid room – she did not want to be alone, I suppose. She asked to have the fluorescent light turned off as it was adding to her irritation. I was alert to realise that if I remained in the room, it could jeopardise the high standards of Victorian morality espoused in our school education. An attitude learned that regarded the pious and chaste behaviour as paramount in our interactions with the opposite sex. She said she was sick and needed my company. We were in the First-aid room. She was lying on the bed, wrapped in a blanket, inexplicably feeling the chills on a hot tropical night. I made sure I sat away from her so that there could be no accusations of any “hanky-panky” going on. I made sure the door of the room was fully ajar. There was some faint light that filtered in from the corridor. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t do anything. Just the occasional exchange of words. Someone walked into the room and noticed there was a boy and a girl inside the dark room. That someone was sent to look for me because I had forgotten to attend a Leaders’ meeting. Within minutes of being discovered in the room, I was summonsed to a hurriedly-arranged Pow Wow. Wow. Kapow. There, I felt I was publicly lynched by my closest friends, some of whom were fellow committee members. No one held back at admonishing me. No one came to my defence. No one. None of them saw that the act of looking after the sick was not the same as an act to get physically close to someone of the opposite sex. They trusted their raging testosterones would cause them to misbehave. They deemed mine would have done the same to me. They dismissed my protestations that a scout’s motto is Be Prepared, to be useful and to help others. She was a damsel in distress, and she asked me to help her, and keep her company. My friends disagreed. They said I disappointed them. They said I lacked self control. They accused me of bringing the national event into disrepute. They censured me for causing a national embarrassment to our school. They denigrated my character. They claimed I showed poor judgement and failed to set a good example for the younger attendees. But, I remembered the name my Pa gave me. Forever Strong. They can all pick on me, but they will not make me feel like a pariah. I did nothing wrong.
So, why do people pick on their friends? What is in it for them to want to make someone miserable? Do they derive any pleasure from wanting to hurt another person? Tarnish their reputation to serve what purpose? These questions are for them to answer. I can only answer for myself. Why am I a frequent target? Maybe it is my preparedness to admit that I am anointed the annoying one. Is it my searing honesty that they dislike? Or the photos of my garden and koi that irritate them? Or the way I vocalise my thoughts? Could it be that they dislike the self-deprecating remarks I willingly throw at their direction as I search for ways to placate their antagonism towards me? Is it the pack mentality that a peer group possesses? The need to belong, so as one person says something negative about me, the others have that inclination to join in? Or is it simply me – that part of my personality they detest? I was never the teacher’s pet – there wasn’t a reason to pick on me. But, maybe they see I am different from them. And they don’t like it. Admittedly, too many of my friends say I “over-think”. Although I personally hold the view I am good at simplifying problems, they think my deliberations are unnecessary and are plain “noisy”. Maybe they enjoy the “reactions” they get from me. It is similar to the chap who likes to stir the hornets’ nest – they derive pleasure from the buzz they create. I can be quiet all day and suddenly someone will initiate a controversy that requires my response. They won’t allow me to hibernate in my corner, it seems. Just yesterday, I was in the front yard looking at the improvements The Mrs has made as she creates a cottage garden to replace the patch of lawn that simply will not thrive in any of the four seasons. Suddenly, she was startled by my presence even though I had been praising her work as I stood behind her. She turned to me and said I looked eerie in my black thick sports jacket. Eerie? Scary? Isn’t that another attempt to pick on me when all I did was stand on my front yard studying the garden’s new shape and design? Where is that Peaky Blinders cap of mine?